Helping fight crime, one sketch at a time

Sunday, 15 December 2013 - 12:30pm IST | Agency: DNA
Sketch artists are part of the unsung brigade that play a vital role in helping police catch criminals. Two artists who use their creativity to help solve serious crimes and terror cases talk to Prachi Rege about the pros and cons of the job.

The loud, persistent knocking wakes up Nitin Yadav, fast asleep in his room at Mumbai’s Nehru Nagar chawl. It’s 2am but it’s time to get to work. The police are at his door with a 14-year-old homeless boy who has been sexually assaulted in Mumbai.

 “I am used to cops calling on me at any point of the day or night,” says Yadav, who has been a sketch artist for 23 years and is proud of his job, helping police solve crimes ranging from chain snatchings to sensational murders. Like him, Mohammed Siddiq Shaikh also uses his creativity to help the Mumbai police solve cases, part of the unsung brigade that plays a vital role in nabbing criminals.

Both are part-time sketchers —Shaikh works in a textile firm and Yadav is an art teacher at Chembur Education Society’s Primary School — and belong to humble backgrounds. “Since my father was a mill worker, I grew up with meagre means. But the one thing I have had in abundance is my drawing skill,” explains Shaikh, who would draw caricatures of his teachers sitting in the classroom. “After school I would sit outside my home and sketch Amitabh Bachchan in different avatars,” adds the self-trained artist. He wanted to join the police force but couldn’t pass the training test. “Through my sketching I have been able to fulfill my dream,” he says.

 Both Yadav and Shaikh used their creative acumen to do odd jobs like painting billboard ads, movie posters and nameplates at the police station and also making Ganpati idols.  Yadav, a graduate from JJ School of Art, got his first break with the police when he was summoned to the Kurla police station to paint the nameplate of the new officer-in-charge. Shaikh was brought to the notice of the Sewri police station by his neighbour, a cop who appreciated his skill. While Yadav’s first case was a chain snatching in which the criminal was nabbed in three hours, Shaikh coupled his power of visualisation and art to help recover a stolen purse.

Practice makes perfect, and this is true with both artists who can now sketch in flat 30 minutes, unless the person they are dealing with is in tremendous trauma. “Both Yadav and Siddiq helped us nab the Shakti Mills rape case criminals in less than 24 hours. If the sketches are spot-on, 90% of our case is cracked,” says Shamrao Patil, police sub-inspector, NM Joshi Marg Police Station.

 “It helps to have sketch artists on board, especially in complicated cases.  The artists  who work with us, look at this more as helping a social cause, not a profession.”

There are approximately 100 police stations in the city and around 10 freelance sketch artists available. Given their acumen, Yadav and Siddiq are popular across the city.

 So how does one become a good sketch artist?

 “A deep understanding of the human anatomy is essential. One needs to have strong visualisation powers and the knack to pick out details about physical features,” says Shaikh, whose sketches have helped crack big cases like the 7/11 train blasts, the attack on bookie-turned-builder Ajay Gosalia and the firing on former mayor Milind Vaidya.

 Explaining his technique, Yadav, who sketched the three assailants who killed advocate Shahid Azmi and the man who raped a Spanish woman in her Bandra home, says: “I always begin with the details about the shape of the face, nose and lips. Not just the face, I also draw the outfit the suspect was wearing.” Though a sketch artist pens the version given by a complainant or the victim, improvising by the artist can also work wonders, say the two artists.

Both have been busy with the spurt in crimes in the city. “A few years ago I used to be summoned to make 25 to 30 sketches every year. In the last one year, I have been visiting my local police station 15 to 20 times a month for petty crime cases,” says Yadav.

He believes that each police station must have one or two sketch artists on-board. “It can be a good career option for art graduates who are passionate about fighting crime. But unfortunately, this isn’t encouraged,” he says. Though there is demand for their work and it is a skilled job, the pay is insufficient — the rates vary from Rs200-500 depending on the nature of the case. There are occasions when they even work for free. 

As Yadav states, “If the police force makes this a full-time job with good pay, I want to open an academy and train young artists to be good sketchers.”

Skills for the sketcher
1) Good understanding of the human anatomy
2) Power of visualisation
3) Ability to connect with the person giving the description of the criminal
4) Love for the art
5) Excellent precision in drawing

A crime scene sketch assists in:
1) Interviewing and interrogating persons
2) Preparing an investigative report
3) Presenting the case in court
4) The sketch supplements photographs, notes, plaster casts and other investigative
5) There are two types of sketches —
(i) Rough sketch
(ii) Finished or scale sketch

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